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Spectre of Islamic fundamentalism across Asia? - The Observer

Observer Foreign Desk ()
18 February 1997

Title : Spectre of Islamic fundamentalism across Asia?
Author : Observer Foreign Desk
Publication : The Observer
Date : February 18, 1997

The spectre of Islamic fundamentalism, so far manifest only as a
violent reaction to liberalism in Islamic societies themselves -
Algeria and Egypt being eminent examples - is no longer confined to
these isolated pockets.

It has, lately, found fertile clime in Asia, particularly in
countries ruled by the tenets of shariat, thereby giving the
impression that the movement has the blessings of the resident

The ongoing violence against Christians in Pakistan and the recent
attacks against Indonesia's ethnic minorities have to be perceived
in this context.

Two Christians were killed and 15 injured, thousands were rendered
homeless while 12 houses were burnt when a mob of 30,000 Muslim
rioters went on a rampage in two Christian enclaves in the central
Pakistani town of Khanewal, 60 km east of Multan earlier this

The cause of the violence was given as desecration of the Holy
Qoran allegedly by members of the Christian community who form a
mere three percent of Pakistan's 130 million population. The
rampaging mob was also demanding death penalty to the alleged
desecraters under the country's blasphemy law.

While the new government of Nawaz Sharif is yet to take any formal
action against the miscreants, the Pakistani Christians,
particularly those living abroad, have voiced anguish at the "sense
of insecurity" caused by the latest violence against them.

In a letter addressed to President Farooq Leghari, President of the
Canadian chapter of the International Christian Awaz, Shadab E
Khokhar pointed out that the latest attacks, coming as they did
soon after Nawaz Sharif's election, "may be a portent of more
dangerous things to come."

Significantly, he pointed out that it was Sharif's earlier
government that introduced the country's Islamic Constitution thus
setting stage for the implementation of the blasphemy law
originally introduced by President Zia ul Haq in 1980.

Pakistan's minorities have been demanding repeal of this pernicious
law which they claim is being used to persecute the minorities.

If Pakistan, as Mr Khokhar claims, has a history of persecuting its
minorities, Indonesia sprang an unpleasant surprise last October
when the world's largest Islamic country broke with its traditional
spirit of religious tolerance and targeted its minorities
Buddhists, Chinese, Christians and Hindus - for an unprecedented
and brutal attack.

Ever since, the country has been witnessing sporadic violence
organised by the country's majority (96 per cent) Muslims against
its minorities who form the remaining 4 per cent. rioters.

If Pakistan and Indonesia represent the intolerance of the majority
community, who happened to be Muslims against the minorities, the
recent riots in the city of Yining, in Xinjiang province of China
and in the island of Jolo, in southern Philippines are
manifestations of secessionist uprising by the minorities of these
two countries who again happened to be Muslims.

In the province of Xinjiang, bordering the Islamic republic of
Kazakhistan, the stirrings of a separatist violence were evident
soon after the break up of the Soviet Republic and with the
southern states turning. themselves into Islamic nations. It is
significant to note that although China's majority is made up of
Hans, they represent only 38 per cent of the 16 million people of
autonomous Islamic province of Xinjiang. The rest is made up of
the Uighurs and Turks.

In the Philippines, a Roman Catholic bishop was killed and five
other Christians were killed in the predominantly Muslim island of
Jolo, which has been witnessing a lingering Muslim secessionist
movement for several years.

The government attributed the latest violence to Muslim groups
fighting for a separate Islamic state, a claim confirmed by the
hardcore outfits like the one led by one Abu Sayyaf.

There is an urgent message in these uprisings for all of the: the
crescent of Islam is taking a wider and definite shape across the
Asian continent.

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